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Jobs Returns, But Questions on Apple Succession Persist

By Blane Warrene MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 10, 2004 11:37 AM PT

After little more than a month of recuperation from pancreatic cancer surgery, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is returning to work.

Jobs Returns, But Questions on Apple Succession Persist

According to the company, he has been attending meetings and will be taking the reins back from Tim Cook, Apple's executive vice president of operations, who ran the company in Jobs' absence.

The month of August went well for Apple even without its star leader. The company announced the much-anticipated new G5 iMac, with vice president of sales Phil Schiller filling in for Jobs for the keynote at the Apple Expo in Paris.

Mac Community Shaken

Apple seems to have emerged from the health scare unscathed in the media and on Wall Street, with its stock surging and the company seeking to increase market share.

According to Todd Chambers, a vice president with Authoria, a human resource provider to the likes of the Gap, Sears, McDonald's and the U.S. Postal Service, this may be due to a strong internal communications plan.

"Historically, there haven't been good ways to [manage temporary loss of executives to illness]," Chambers said. "You had to trust that companies knew what they were doing. Now, organizations have processes and systems that address this issue, if only at a high level. Companies understand how complex this is."

The core Mac community, however, was shaken at the thought of an Apple once again without Steve Jobs at the helm. Now, as new rumblings emerge that Jobs could be an informal candidate for Disney's CEO slot, which will open up in 2006, succession planning in Cupertino remains a priority.

Planning Transitions

Jordan Klear, managing partner at the Gutman Group, an investment banking firm in Washington, D.C., suggests that two examples of companies that managed difficult transitions well were McDonald's and Disney. Each had a senior executive unexpectedly die.

"Each company dealt with the shocking news because they had plans in place," Klear told MacNewsWorld.

Creative Strategies president Tim Bajarin believes Apple's future depends in part upon a strong management team and a clear successor.

"Make no mistake, Steve Jobs is Apple Computer and is its face to the public and a great product champion," Bajarin said.

He does believe the company has sound managers with critical roles in executing the company's strategies.

"The good news is that Jobs has a very strong management team with people like John Rubenstein, Avi Tevenian and Phil Schiller, among others," Bajarin added. "They could create a more public persona for these people" as a way to strengthen the company, he said.

However, at this point Bajarin does not see any likely successor who could take over Jobs' star status.

Reassuring Loyalists and Investors

According to Chambers, any company should be thinking about how they want to handle succession.

"How do you identify, compensate and retain your best performers?" Chambers asked. "You need to align the entire team as well, not just individuals. Specific succession plans themselves may or may not be public, but companies should be able to reassure their publics that the issue is being handled."

When asked how companies such as Apple breed future leaders, Chambers said the issue should be addressed through an overall human resources strategy.

"Companies need to decide what their strategy is across the board, not just at a senior level -- do they develop and promote from within or do they go external for the skill sets they need?"

According to Chambers, companies should ask themselves, "Do you have a culture and the systems to allow you to deliver the right person to the right job and align them with the corporate goals?"

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